Gripping courtroom drama as depicted in our favourite legal shows and movies is often a far cry from reality. However, they do get the high tension right. Taking a dispute to court is risky and expensive. Therefore, you are often better off trying to resolve the dispute in a settlement conference. Negotiating a settlement keeps you in control of the terms, as you are not asking a judge to decide for you. You can also save a lot of money in legal costs. This article gives eight tips for getting the best outcome in a settlement conference.
Know the Other Party
Take a moment to put yourself in the other party’s shoes. Think about what they are trying to achieve and why. This does not mean you have to agree with them (or that they are right), but it can be helpful in negotiating a resolution. For example, if you know they want something that you do not consider important, you can give them this in exchange for an item of higher value to you.
Do Not Get Personal
Attack the problem, not the other party. Put aside your feelings for them as people and focus on the facts of the matter at hand. Being aggressive and getting personal is likely to hinder your chances of resolving the dispute. While sometimes difficult, it is important to stay calm and leave emotions at the door.
Timing can be important. Holding a settlement conference shortly after court proceedings have started has the advantage of saving considerable costs if you can reach a resolution. Alternatively, holding a settlement conference later on brings the benefit of knowing more information about the strengths and weaknesses of the other party’s case. Receiving advice from an experienced disputes lawyer is the best way to get the timing right.
Have a Clear Objective
Take some time to consider what you want to achieve. What are the terms upon which you would be prepared to settle? A settlement conference is a negotiation and you will likely need to compromise. It is an old legal adage that a good settlement is one that both parties can live with.
Discuss with your lawyer what is likely to happen at the settlement conference. It is also important that you understand both your best and worst case scenarios. This will help you weigh up the risk of potentially losing at a final hearing on the one hand and compromising your position (to the extent required to reach a resolution) on the other.
Ensure that you provide your lawyer with all the information and documents relevant to your case. You do not want negotiations to fall apart because your lawyer made a decision based on an incorrect assumption.
Avoid Bidding Against Yourself
A settlement conference will often have a number of offers and counter-offers passing back and forth. If your offer is rejected, do not be tempted to immediately make a weaker offer. Bidding against yourself can create a perception that you need to settle. After each rejection, take some time to consider your position in light of your overall strategy and aim.
Allow Plenty of Time
A settlement conference can take considerable time. Some will take all day. Do not be tempted to rush the process, but allow the negotiation to take its course. Taking breaks through the conference can help prevent fatigue and keep your mind fresh.
Write Clear Terms of Settlement
Once you reach an agreement, it is important that you record the terms in a carefully drafted Deed of Settlement and Release or Settlement Agreement. Your Deed or Agreement should precisely capture the terms that were reached so as to leave no room for further disagreement. Make sure that you understand exactly what you are agreeing to prior to executing any Deed or Agreement.
We cannot stress enough how important it is that you only agree to a settlement that you can keep. There is little point in agreeing to make a payment by a certain date and then finding out you lack the required funds.
A settlement conference can resolve a dispute faster and with less expense than a court hearing. However, to arrive at a favourable outcome, you need to go into the conference with a clear head and well-defined goals.
LegalVision’s litigation team has represented many clients in settlement conferences. If you want assistance with resolving a dispute cheaply before it goes to court, call LegalVision’s dispute resolution lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.
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